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Spain's Reaction to Dani Alves Incident Shows Message Is Finally Getting Through

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  Dani Alves of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the La Liga match between Villarreal CF and FC Barcelona at El Madrigal on April 27, 2014 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images
Guillem BalagueFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

It was Mark Twain who said that "against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."

He probably wasn't talking about racism or racist actions, but there's much in what he says.

The commotion and rumpus created, not so much about the incident where a spectator—I won't dignify the moron by labelling him a supporter—lobbed a banana at Dani Alves during the Villarreal vs. Barcelona game, but rather the Brazilian's reaction to it, tells us a lot of positive things.

On the back of the sight of Alves contemptuously chomping on the piece of fruit, players, news people and celebrities have raised two fingers to a crass act of unfunny racism with the weapon of laughter.

As one, the Spanish media announced that what had occurred was wrong. During one of the major news bulletins in Spain, one of the presenters peeled a banana and started to eat it. Believe me, this represents progress—and I'll tell you why.

The reaction of the people to the incident, especially in the media, means the peseta has finally dropped. Finally, they are realizing that racism is wrong and needs addressing. Every single newspaper in Spain covered the story. El Pais, Spain's most influential newspaper, devoted a whole page to it.

The message is getting through.

MADRID- SPAIN - NOVEMBER 17: Ashley Cole of England shouts at  Fernando Torres of Spain during the international friendly match between Spain and England on November 17, 2004 at the Estadio Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)
Ben Radford/Getty Images

The first time I wrote about racism in connection with football was at a friendly international in Madrid between Spain and England when some of the black England players were subjected to monkey chants.

I was the only journalist in Spain to mention it, and I was also probably the first Spanish journalist ever to write about racism in football. The silence from the rest of the media was deafening.

But now that we have a national reaction to the incident, does it mean we are there; that the job is done? Of course not.

We still need a whole lot of education. We won't stop people from doing things like this by telling them not to, but rather by educating them that to do such things is wrong and unacceptable, and that they will be punished, and punished severely.

Messages from social network sites like Twitter urging us to "sort ourselves out" are not helpful, and while England can take pride in being at the vanguard of the fight against racism and pointing us in the right way, the country has not been without its own well-documented race problems, both in sporting and social contexts.

But what has happened in Spain in the last 24 hours is a very definite step in the right direction. Still, more has to be done.

The matter has been reported to the police and to the relevant footballing authorities. Will they do anything about it? We'll have to wait and see, but I doubt it.

What is clear, however, is that Villarreal have done all they could do in this situation. The man responsible for the deed has had his season ticket revoked, has been banned for life and has been reported to the relevant authorities, who will hopefully fine him heavily.

For years now, the Madrigal stadium has had posters and signs everywhere that state categorically that any form of racist behaviour or chanting will not be accepted. It's difficult to see what else the club can do.

Coming on the back of another unfortunate incident when someone threw a gas canister onto the pitch, the logical course of action, if the authorities were to abide by the letter of the law, would be to close the stadium. It would be a grossly unfair action against one of the least intimidating, friendliest clubs in La Liga.

What is needed, however, is action from the authorities, the Federation and especially the government, and the strongest of action needs to be taken against the perpetrators of these outrages. The laws, some of the most advanced in the world, are in place.

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  Pedro Rodriguez of FC Barcelona duels for the ball with Javier Aquino of Villarreal CF during the La Liga match between Villarreal CF and FC Barcelona at El Madrigal on April 27, 2014 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David R
David Ramos/Getty Images

Clubs also need to get together and say as one that racism in their grounds is unacceptable and will be punished. They also need to take a long look at themselves in the mirror and ask if they are doing enough to combat racism in their own backyards because there probably isn't a club in La Liga that doesn't have a black player, and they should act, if for no other reason, than to protect their own players.

After 11 years of suffering this time of pernicious assault, Dani Alves reacted in a way that could mean that Neymar, who only arrived recently and is already a victim of similar behaviour, might not suffer the same way and for the same length of time as his fellow countryman.

To paraphrase a statement from the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, what we need here are three things: "Education, education, education."

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